Saturday, July 31, 2010

What I Did On My Creative Writing Course - Part Two

...part one is here...

Dan was someone who could not stand to miss mealtimes, partcularly lunch, and it he could ill conceal his joy at Aunt Carmen's suggestion that they go and get something to eat. Various images of indian food, chinese, fish and chips and doner kebabs all vied for his attention, causing him to almost start salivating like a dog. That was the problem with Britain, there was so much choice when it came to junk food. He managed to steer the decision towards the chippie, his stomach almost howling in anticipation, which was only round the corner and did a mean plaice in batter.

Feeling unusually bloated afterwards, he'd had to help Aunt Carmen with the bulk of her chips and the batter, much of which she'd scraped off the fish, he was happy to spin out the lunch break a while, as they perched on two chairs in the otherwise empty space that had been his living room.

"so do you think you'll stay in Croatia then?" asked Aunt Carmen.
"Estonia. I live in Estonia".
"oh ok, yes Peter and I were looking for it on a map the other day, that's Riga, yes?"
"Tallinn".
"oh. We'll have to come over some time, when it's not too cold – what's it like in October?"
"nice, autumn's a nice time of year to come"
"but isn't it too cold? When does the winter start?"
"Well look, people live there year round and everything continues to function. We're not on the arctic circle or something"

Dan was starting to get a bit frustrated at this commonly held view that people seemed to have of Estonia being a slavic speaking country lying somewhere between Armenia and Greenland, perhaps forgetting that he too once had only the vaguest notions of where his adoptive homeland was.
"have you got a girlfriend yet?"
"No, too busy."
That old chestnut, you'd have thought he'd have a better rebuttal prepared.
"oh. Just playing the field then".
"not at all".

Dan was always anxious to dispel the image that many of the older generation seemed to have of him as being some kind of lothario who went round with a couple of blondes in traditional clothing, over each shoulder. Not that he didn't want to do that, he just didn't want to be that.

"How's work there, the salaries must be awfully low".
Aunt Carmen wasn't going to give up, though she'd pushed yet another one of his buttons, that kind of mawkish sentiment that accompanied westerners incredulity at statistics they'd heard of people surviving on 27p per year. Also it was too close to the truth, he'd initially taken something like a 90 per cent pay cut when he'd moved to the baltics.

"I keep busy".
"what is it you do again, you're an English teacher".
"well, some of the time." 

Actually Dan always felt inadequate at being 'just another English teacher' and thus had half jacked it in and started doing other things. Proofreading, well, that still evoked soft shoes and cable knit sweaters. Real estate investing, now that sounded a killer, although it wasn't quite true. He was selling the flat in part to use the equity to get started in that area, but he knew in reality he was never going to be the Donald Trump of Tallinn, rents were too low and banks too stingy to make much of an income for the foreseeable future. 

"I'm setting up a company too".
"Right, right. Are you sure you are hard headed enough for that? I mean, I always had you down as a reasearcher or something, you always had your head in a book when the other boys were playing football".
"Yeah, well I can learn. I'm reselling Alex's car product and that's been really successful here, so I'm just leveraging that to sell in Estonia. There's bound to be people who want it".
Dan felt that he'd done enough for this to pass as a conversation and, whilst he still had that feeling that he could do so much better, he'd ticked enough boxes to not feel too guilty on the flight home.

The vinyl actually went to a charity shop- in Leamington, dodging the traffic on the Parade, the evening rush hour was now under way, Dan ran into the first place they could find -the British Heart foundation, clutching a big plastic box of treausred LPs. He hoped they had customers with tastes broad enough to encompass the Cult, John Coltrane and Huey Lewis and the News. A few had received a stay of execution it was true, most of the U2 albums, and the duelling banjos from Deliverance, but since these were going back to Aunt Jemima's for a later postage over to Tallinn at a later date, and Dan didn't have anything to play them on anyway, it hardly seemed relevant.

Suddenly, the task was almost done, ancient looking spiders quite literally stretched their many legs in their new-found space. He stooped to sweep up a pile of cigar like dried leaves, which ruslted and gave off a not unpleasant nutty smell. How these had got into the locked garage was a mystery. Just down to the neutral items, a coffee flask or some rusty old paint tins, which were hardly going to tug at Dan's emotions now. There was one terrible moment when Aunt Carmen pulled out some long-forgotten glossy magazines from a padded envelope. Nothing was said, she simply put them back in and continued.

"...As I say, you're welcome to anything you want".

He kept his equilibrium in check externally at least.

Dan was feeling humbled. Humbled that his Aunt had sacrificed a day to help him, completely without merit. Humbled that his life really wasn't so complex, that he wasn't such a big shot after all, that it was all done with in the space of a few hours. Humbled by the passing of time; it was five years since he'd been back to the flat and the surrounding area was no longer his. The Kia showroom was closed. The internet cafe was now a pizza place. Years of smoking had taken their toll on the girl that worked at the library. He didn't even flinch at the two drunk russians waring England football shirts, half hanging off each other as they remonstrated in the street – he forgot he wasn't in Tallinn. He felt liberated too. He had got by for five years without this stuff so did he really need it anyway? Now his life was becoming more manageable.

"So, thanks for everything" was his parthian shot
"give my regards to uncle Peter"

"I will, remember to send us your address in Finland in time for Christmas" well she was getting closer. Dan was not one for goodbyes, a quick peck on the cheek, then slowly following the car out of the drive and watching it as far as the turnoff at the end of the street with one arm limply raised in an Italian fascist salute then he was free to be Dan again.

On the plane back to Tallinn, no, home, Dan knew he was going to sleep soundly that night in spite of the unusual heat and humidity that had been squatting on the city for some time. He'd decided that Aunt Carmen wasn't someone to be apprehensive of, not some kind of superhuman but just his Auntie, that's all. She had insecurities, aspirations and mediocrity, just like him. He was glad he'd shared that catharsis with her rather than done it alone, and vowed to come and help clear out her garage in five years time..or sooner.


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